I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.
Philanthropy isn’t the panacea for all social ills. But in an uneven economic landscape it is one of the tools to generate social equality.
Concerns for an equitable society, however, must be aligned with ways to create channels for the dissemination of wealth. But rather than following any fixed model for a participatory policy, the approach should be flexible and context-specific.
For me, “gender equality” is an important aspect of social engineering. The shifts in the global economy and the paucity of jobs often leave out poor women without access to skills and resources. Being aware of this has propelled me to initiate women-centric endeavours. My memories go back more than a decade when the JSW Foundation set up a small corpus to help women buy cows and earn a livelihood. One of the first women to avail of this opportunity was an unfortunate lady who during her youth had been forced to become a devadasi. With age, such women get relegated to the fringes of society. For her, owning a cow went beyond earning a livelihood. She was earning her pride and self-respect, and claiming her rightful place in society.
To achieve people-centric aims, philanthropy must, therefore, rise above mere charity. I am in consent with the observation of Arvind Kejriwal, who feels that our countrymen do not want doles. They need skills; they need somebody who can add value to their abilities. They also need access to resources.
Education and empowerment of women have emerged as the core thrust area for us at the foundation. When I speak of education in the rural context, I am not merely thinking of formal education. Creating livelihood through development of particular skills is a powerful tool of emancipation. We experimented with helping young girls drive heavy earth-moving equipment and cranes at a steel plant in Vijayanagar. Initially, their parents opposed, especially because the job was thought unfit for females. However, they overcame the socially imposed strictures and are now role models, inspiring others girls to join their ranks.
Over the years, we have always aimed for facilitating the process whereby our projects would give people the freedom to be informed, freedom to choose, and the freedom to participate.
Bringing people’s voices into policy initiatives is a key aspect. We need a symbiosis between different groups. Non-governmental organizations, the government and individual entrepreneurs must come together along with those people who would benefit from philanthropy. However, I must add, when I see recurring demands for power, water and employment, my mind questions the feasibility of the concept of public-private partnership. If industry is to generate wealth and government to ensure its equitable distribution, is the partnership balanced?
Through my humble involvement with the JSW Foundation, I aspire to work for changing the aspects of availability, access, and the absorption facility of our systems, focusing funds on issues pertaining to women and girls. In my view, the idea of “sustainability” needs to be understood within a specific context and not as a blanket term. If we generate programmes for context-specific development, India would grow as a healthy nation, as a happy nation.
I have trust in an optimistic future. Let’s not forget that in our country we have had many silent crusaders. I have grown to idolize these selfless crusaders, those who do not let the cameras follow them while they reach out to the underprivileged. India needs more homespun heroes and role models to inspire GenNext.
The journey ahead is long, but I continue with hope and sanguinity. Let us take inspiration from the words of Henry David Thoreau: “Philanthropy is almost the only virtue, which is sufficiently appreciated by mankind.”